Symbol groups lead way to c-store grocery revival

Symbol groups such as Spar and Londis are driving the growth in the ultra-competitive convenience-store sector, according to an IGD study.

Convenience Retailing 2003 reveals that the c-store market outperformed the total grocery market last year and now accounts for 20 per cent of entire food retail sales in the UK.

Symbol groups grew ahead of other types of c-stores. Membership of symbol groups rose 5.7 per cent and sales by 12.9 per cent to£5.2 billion.

The market share held by symbol groups increased from 22.5 per cent to 24.3 per cent and the IGD estimates that like-for-like sales climbed by 6.7 per cent.

Symbol groups' growth came mainly from the recruitment of new members - Spar, for instance, recruited the Star News chain - and new store openings by existing members. The turnover of independent c-stores was down, but sales-per-store rose. The contribution of co-operative retailers was boosted by the switch of Alldays into that category following its acquisition.

IGD business manager David Gordon said: 'In recent months, the talk has naturally been of major acquisition activity, but looking beyond this, it is clear that the convenience sector is enjoying stable, long-term growth.

'We expect the development of larger, higher quality store chains to continue to fuel demand for convenience shopping over the next five years, growing the total market to about£25 billion by 2007. Most operators will benefit from this trend, but a move to symbol operation is looking increasingly attractive for independent retailers as competition intensifies.'